Maricopa Medical Center maxed out on space

August 21, 2012

The Maricopa Medical Center is more than 40 years old. Administrators say they are spending up to millions of dollars a year to keep the leaking, cracking, aging building patched together.

Wednesday afternoon the board that oversees the hospital will meet to decide what the future could be for the state’s only public hospital. KJZZ’s Al Macias reports.

AL MACIAS: When this place opened east of downtown in 1970, it was known as the county hospital. Its official name today is the Maricopa Medical Center. In 2010 it admitted more than 8,000 patients, and 55,000 people visited the emergency room. Many of those patients were uninsured. Dr. Robert Fromm is the chief medical officer for MMC. He says the intensive care unit does not have private rooms. Beds are separated by curtains.

ROBERT FROMM: We have new devices that weren’t even around in the 1970’s, to manage the breathing of patients, to manage the support of the circulation of patients. They require greater space. They require power, they require gasses, all sorts of structural elements that the backbone of this building doesn’t really allow us to provide.

MACIAS: The center is also a teaching hospital, working with students from the University of Arizona Medical campus in Phoenix.

FROMM: It’s hard to do when you’re cramming six people on a team into a little eight-by-eight cubicle. And think through the process of diagnoses and treatment.

MACIAS: Despite the limitations the hospital does have a modern electronic patients’ medical records system. It uses CAT scans, PET scans MRIs. The Arizona Burn Center is recognized as one of the best in the country. Dr. Daniel Caruso is the director.

DANIEL CARUSO: I like to affectionately tell people that this hospital was built in 1971 with 1920’s technology. I mean it’s a solid structure; it hasn’t fallen down on us.

MACIAS: Actually a few years ago a water main break on an upper floor did force the evacuation of the Burn Center when it flooded down into the lower levels. Caruso says the burn center has the tools it needs,  but the building is maxed out.

CARUSO: We’re behind, we’re behind the other hospital, and again it’s logistics and ergonomics of trying fit all this into a building that just won’t support it.

MACIAS: Betsey Bayless is the CEO. When she and the health system’s board of directors took over several years ago, the system was on the edge of bankruptcy. The finances were stabilized. Now Bayless says the challenge is the hospital itself. She says maintenance costs average about $30 million a year.

BAYLESS: We’ve committed a lot of capitol to this hospital and made a lot of improvements. But it’s been virtually impossible to bring this hospital up to code.

MACIAS: Bayless says a new hospital could cost $300 million. Paying for it would likely include additional taxes for county property owners. She says she understands the public may not always support additional taxes but in this case, they make  sense because MMC has a unique role in the community.

BAYLESS: It is important because we have many many people that are uninsured or underinsured or there are things that we do that are either not very profitable or the private hospitals don’t want to do.

MACIAS: Bayless had hoped to get a bond issue on the November ballot. But the board of directors wouldn’t support it this year. Instead, it will consider a plan Wednesday to appoint a committee to make recommendations. And even if a bond is ultimately approved, designing, engineering and building a new hospital means the old one will have to last into the next decade.